Monday, July 06, 2009

is it still trite if it's wrong?

A quote from Sarah Palin's July 4th email to supporters: always feels good to do what is right.

I come from academia. In the setting I'm used to, every thing you say is reflected upon and poked at and second-guessed well before you put it in writing, so much so that scholars and professors can sometimes seem pathologically unwilling to stake out a hard claim without qualifiers and addenda.

Perhaps for that reason, I find Palin's thought processes and quotes interesting sometimes in how, well, unexamined they are. This quote would be just another saccharine Saturday morning bromide were it not for one amusing complication: it isn't true. And it's not just that it's not true, but that it goes against the grain of the very same pop moralism it plays upon, where the lesson is that the "right" thing to do is usually the harder of two options, and that the difficulty of the decision is actually an indication that it's right, rather than "the easy way out." Every eight-year-old knows that it often sucks to do the right thing, whether it's apologizing to your sister for hitting her or returning that toy your friend left at your house or admitting to the teacher that you're the one who was talking during the quiz.

Similarly, a couple of days ago, during her resignation speech, Palin quipped: "Only dead fish go with the flow." It's cute, it's seemingly witty, but it isn't anywhere in the ballpark of true. Actually, perfectly healthy fish regularly swim downstream, along with anything from kayakers to jellyfish, just as on the other side of the analogy, good leaders go with the flow all the time. They show that they can play well with others, and that the entire legislative body doesn't have to be hijacked for their agenda. Good politicians also take the occasional principled stand, sure, but that's very different than the knee-jerk contrarianism her analogy advocates.

I think there's fertile ground here for a comedy about a politician touted as a sort of super-moral country type who spouts folksy sayings that are wildly false. "Why am I running for president, you ask? It's simple, John: like the mighty buffalo, I'm always on the lookout for a new mountain to climb."

"The two parties are always bickering and fighting. In Congress, they have to sit on separate sides of the aisle just like different animals are fenced off on my farm; after all, you don't want your strongest bull eating all the chickens."

"I'll tell you why I'm against marijuana legalization: you shouldn't put anything in your body that's mined rather than grown."

This is why I just don't see a political future for Sarah Palin. She whines about being victimized by the "liberal media" (if she has learned anything, it's the political utility of victimhood), and wankers like Ross Douthat wish that she'd taken more time to bone up on politics, but none of that really sank her. It was her lack of self awareness, particularly in terms of her intelligence. If you can't hold your own in an interview and can't match wits with elite journalists, the media doesn't have to crucify you: the voters will gladly do it. All the boning up in the world doesn't help if the politician at the other podium has 20 or 30 IQ points on you. You will suffer for it. John McCain had 30 years to prepare for Barack Obama and he got smoked in every debate. And frankly, if you're really this poor of a decision maker, you're doomed to repeated onslaughts of negative press.

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